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An Apprentice’s Reflection in “Two Words”

January 16, 2013

The 2012 Biodynamic Conference: Sacred Agriculture

By Drew M. McCaskey, NABDAP Apprentice

View from Monona Terrace over Lake Monona

View from Monona Terrace over Lake Monona

It was a twenty-seven hour bus ride that took us from the front range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains to Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin, a week before the Thanksgiving holiday. My anticipation for the upcoming conference had grown over each passing day of the season. Harvest mornings and evening dinners were rife with discussion about our anticipation and expectations. Arriving in the capital city of Wisconsin, my roommate and I abandoned our preconceived notions; it was best to approach the coming days in a child-like, sponge-like fashion. As the conference proceeded, the theme of Sacred Agriculture began to take shape as our impassioned exchanges and shared stories became interwoven. After leaving Madison, the experience and feelings were fresh yet inexpressible. I recalled the setting sun over Lake Monona as a warm feeling overtook me, sitting in silence for the bus ride back to Colorado.

Over a month later, an adequate period of time has elapsed for my feelings and thoughts to crystallize, as I now reflect upon my experiences. The totality of the conference was so overwhelming in the moment that the distance between now and then has given me a sense of clarity and a meaningful expression budding forth into words. Two words, specifically, come to mind underlying my experience of Sacred Agriculture and the multifarious meanings this theme entails. The two words, intertwining and connecting the happenings we shared in the halls of Monona Terrace, are: ‘narrative’ and ‘advocacy.’ Arising out of the inspiring workshops given by several presenters, these two words express the powerful interconnectedness we share while emphasizing our active role in realizing our sacred vision. We arrived in Madison anticipating to learn more about biodynamic agriculture, but our gathering soon revealed the essence and energy of a flame, growing together and with purpose each day we shared together.

What is the significance of these two words, narrative and advocacy, as they pertain to our participation in Sacred Agriculture? How may we express them in our daily lives? How do they reinforce one another? Of all the presentations I had the pleasure of attending, two speakers guided me towards a better understanding of what is possible in Sacred Agriculture through an emphasis on these words permeating their work. Keynote speaker Charles Eisenstein and Cornucopia Institute co-founder Mark Kastel highlight ‘narrative’ and ‘advocacy,’ not only in their professions and publications, but also by pursuing a vision in an active spirit through these words.

Charles Eisenstein delivering keynote speech

Charles Eisenstein delivering keynote speech

Charles Eisenstein’s most recent writings emphasize the renewal of the gift in society, evolving fundamentally from a shift in our human narrative. Our consciousness deepens as we confront the precarious logic of an old narrative and create new possibilities through a new story, a renewed understanding, of ourselves. Mr. Eisenstein spoke of the individual as exemplar in actively realizing a new narrative. During his workshop, in an open forum format, we spoke of our own contributions to the spirit of the gift by aiding neighbors in times of crisis, openly sharing a harvest’s bounty with our community and discussing the major challenges confronting this spirit in a world shaped by an outdated human narrative. By sharing our narrative with others, we are ultimately advocating our beliefs and life choices in an effort to contribute to a narrative beyond the limits of our personal one.

The work of Mark Kastel focuses on advocacy as a watchdog for organic label quality, vigilantly promoting consumer awareness in the marketplace and championing the small-scale family farmer in the fields. Mark Kastel invited us to share our successes competing in the marketplace among dominant industrial and corporate players. Mark emphasized the importance of our narrative in championing our cause. When we bring our produce to market or our innovation to the service of others, it is not an anonymous gesture wrapped in an advertising ploy. Our personal engagement, the work we choose to share, is offered in the marketplace, not merely as another product for the shelves, but as an invitation to participate in a narrative, an intimate collective vision.

The sinuous relationship between ‘narrative’ and ‘advocacy’ finds full expression in our togetherness. Each of us brings our own personal narrative and cause to share with one another, in the aim of achieving a vision beyond individual perception. At Monona Terrace, we assembled to realize the vision of Sacred Agriculture, learning foremost that such a vision is a co-authored collaboration among people of various backgrounds. Only in our gathering may we continually refine our collective vision, a product of our narrative, and give strength to our cause, the advocacy of our work and lives manifest in our actions. The spirit of our congregation in Madison culminated in a unique vision that was the result of sharing ourselves and finding expression that is only achievable together. The challenge remains to be mindful of togetherness in our daily pursuits, realizing that our narratives are not isolated and that the advocacy visible in our actions contributes to the strength of a united vision. A musing on what Sacred Agriculture means and the feelings it evokes may be enough to begin the journey, through the two simple words of ‘narrative’ and ‘advocacy.’

Drew M. McCaskey is from Pennsylvania and a second-year apprentice in the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program (NABDAP). His interest in farming grew out of an educational background in art and biology.  

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